Cancer came into our lives out the blue. There were no signs. There were no symptoms. We discovered it out of pure dumb luck.
My husband, Jeff, went to an urologist for a vasectomy. He had the usual exam. The doctor felt a lump. He didn’t think anything of it but suggested an ultrasound just to be safe. This was the week leading into Memorial Day Weekend in 2013.
We went to a friend’s wedding that weekend. We danced, we drank, we caught up with friends. We had a wonderful time. We didn’t know that would be the last fun weekend in a very long time.
Jeff had the ultrasound the Tuesday after Memorial Day. That’s when everything changed. The urologist was very concerned about the ultrasound and Jeff went through a ton of blood work and some x-rays. That week was filled with tests. By the end of the week, we were scheduling his orchiectomy of the left testicle.
That first surgery went well. The waiting afterwards, to validate that it was cancer and to learn what form, was brutal. With Jeff’s go-ahead, I went on a business trip for a couple of days. (We figured it would be better to go about life as normal while waiting rather than putting everything on hold and making things harder on ourselves.)
That kicked off my selfish phase. I was, of course, very worried about Jeff. He was top of mind. But I also worried about how this would affect my career.
I had just started a new job that same week before Memorial Day. My second week at work I learned that my husband very likely had cancer. I didn’t know what would happen next. I would lie awake at night wondering all sort of things.
How do I take care of Jeff when I’ve just started this new job? I have not yet built up a reputation at this job. How is this going to work? Legally I need to be given family medical leave time, but is this going to hurt me in the long run? Will I take a hit for caring for my family as many other women have? How horrible of a person am I for thinking these things when my husband’s life in the balance? I am a terrible human being.
I kept all that to myself. In fact, I haven’t admitted this to anyone before. This is the first time I’m sharing this.
I did tell my boss what was going on with Jeff (but not about how I was feeling). I told him that we were waiting to see what happened next. He was very supportive, which helped.
Meanwhile, I kept a brave face. I was a strong, successful, professional woman. I was not going to show any weakness in the office. I would fake bravery as I figured it out.
I faked bravery at home too. I didn’t want to do anything to make Jeff feel worse. He was waiting to find out if he had cancer and I didn’t want him to have to take care of me. Falling apart was saved for discrete, time-boxed moments when no one would see me.
Looking back, I know I wasn’t really selfish in worrying about work and my career. Even if I had not just started a new job, the professional impact was a very valid concern. I also know that I didn’t need to bottle everything up. I could have reached out more to friends.
At that stage, I found it hard to reach out because I didn’t know enough yet. We didn’t know for sure if it was cancer. Although we were 90% certain it was, maybe it wouldn’t be. And in that case, did Jeff want me to share what was going on? Very few people knew at that point and I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out.
Then we got the diagnosis. It was definitely cancer. The good news is that it was Stage 1. If Jeff hadn’t gone in for the vasectomy consultation right when he did, the story would have been very different. Any earlier, the tumor might not have been present. Any later, it would have spread already.
It didn’t feel like good news at the time, nor did it make us feel lucky. Now it does. I am not a religious or even marginally spiritual person. But the timing, catching it right at Stage 1, how things worked out…if that wasn’t a blessing then I don’t know what is.
The bad news was that the tumor was non-seminoma. It was a very aggressive form of cancer. We would need to make some decisions very soon.